In the beginning …
Like many interesting events in life, my first encounter with Translators without Borders (TWB) was pure serendipity. I was completing the Master of Arts in Audiovisual Translation Studies at the University of Leeds. An excellent component of the course is the series of presentations given by speakers from language service providers, the EU, the UN, and NGOs. In January 2015 Andrew Bredenkamp, Chair of TWB, gave a presentation – and I was hooked!
I had come to translation quite late in life, having worked as a teacher of English as a foreign language in Italy, Nepal, and the UK, then as an IT Manager in Belgium and the US. When I retired I missed the international atmosphere in which I had lived and worked. A friend’s daughter had followed the Leeds Master of Arts course (serendipity again), which is why I enrolled. But I didn’t want to work full time, so volunteering for TWB was the perfect solution.
What was my role?
I started in January 2015, as TWB’s Volunteer Manager, recruiting volunteers and interns to help with our website, accounting, graphics design, and more. Since then I have hosted stands for TWB at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) conferences in Newcastle, Cardiff, and Sheffield. I wrote numerous articles for ITI and CIOL magazines, and gave presentations at various events throughout the UK. I also helped to set up the TWB customer relationship management tool and the criteria for admitting nongovernmental organizations. I even set up (with help!) the TWB Cookbook. And I enjoyed every minute!
TWB was the cover story in the ITI Bulletin September-October 2018, edited by Radhika Holmström
What were the high spots?
Definitely top of the list was meeting, in person or digitally, the many supporters who do so much to make TWB such a successful organization. There are too many to name but I want to single out Noura Tawil, who has lived in Latakia, Syria throughout the war. She is bringing up her children and overcoming hurdles such as intermittent electricity. Throughout all of this, she not only continues to translate texts from English to Arabic for TWB but also supplied several recipes for the TWB Cookbook. Thank you, Noura!
Also high on the list is the satisfaction gained from knowing that I have done something practical, however small, to help people in distress. The first earthquakes in Nepal hit during the ITI Conference in Newcastle in 2015. Having worked in Nepal for three years in the 1970s, I could imagine the distress caused, and was grateful to participants at the conference for spreading the word that we needed translators to and from Newari and Nepali.
It was also good to know that we helped the refugees fleeing war zones and arriving at the camps in Greece. We did practical things such as translating into Arabic and other languages the instructions on how to register and what to do next.
It was also very satisfying to know that we helped out after the fire at Grenfell Tower in London, when the British Red Cross asked us to translate the leaflets they were distributing. Our wonderful volunteer translators completed the translations from English into Arabic, Farsi, Pushto, Somali, and Tigrinya, mostly within 24 hours. That made a huge difference to the survivors.
I gained immense satisfaction from our work during the Ebola crisis, in Nigeria, and our work with the Rohingya escaping to Bangladesh from Myanmar. I’m also grateful to have been able to witness the huge technological advances we have made in our translation tools over the past few years.
It is also gratifying that my work for TWB has been recognized. In 2016 I was presented with the TWB Access to Knowledge Excellence Award. And in 2018 the ITI presented me with its Industry Ambassador Award.
ITI President Sarah Bawa-Mason presents me with the 2018 ITI Industry Ambassador Award. Photo credit: ITI
I always promised myself that I would step down when I was 70, and I will be 72 this year, so it is time to leave! I will continue to do translations for TWB but will no longer represent TWB through events or writing.
I had always thought that in my retirement I would sit in my rocking chair and read books – but retirement in the 21st century is just not like that! So I will continue with my work as a freelance translator and also my work for organizations such as our local branch of Samaritans.
I plan to spend time, especially each summer, on another retirement project – sailing! I volunteered for the 2012 London Olympics as an interpreter (Italian-English and Frech-English) and was assigned to the Paralympic sailing at Portland. I liked what I saw and have since joined my local sailing club, have obtained a Competent Crew certificate and passed the VHF radio exam in order to coordinate communications during races!
I will follow TWB on social media with great interest – and I know that when a crisis strikes anywhere in the world TWB will be there to help. #LanguageMatters
Written by Sue Fortescue, Ambassador for Translators without Borders 2015-2019